STUDY: Only 36% of Drivers Get the Check Engine Light Inspected Within the First Week of it Turning On Staff Staff

For the average driver, the check engine light might be one of life’s greatest mysteries. It could be something simple, like the gas cap needing to be tightened or an oxygen sensor needing to be cleaned. Or it could be something far more critical, especially if the light is flashing, like transmission or engine failure. In this case, pull over immediately and have the car towed to a trusted mechanic to prevent further damage.

But for most, as long as the light isn’t flashing, it might be tempting to ignore.

In order to get a sense of how quickly people react to their check engine light turning on, the automobile research team took a survey of 1,239 U.S. residents about their response times and found some interesting trends.

Study findings

  • Only 36.1% of people take their car to the mechanic within the first week of the check engine light turning on.
  • 25% of people say they never get the check engine light code inspected after it turns on.
  • 29.6% of people say they will wait between one month and one year to get the check engine light code inspected.
  • 9.2% said they wait until there is an obvious problem.
  • Men (32%) are way more likely than women (18.4%) to never get the check engine light code inspected.
  • Age plays a large role in how quickly someone will get the code inspected, with 43.4% of those 45 years and older saying they’ll immediately take the car to a mechanic, while only 26.6% of those younger than 35 say they would do so.

Most mechanics and car experts will say it is important to, at least, get the light’s code inspected. The odds are in favor of it being something relatively simple or benign. Still, without knowing what code specifically fired, it could be something that causes more expensive or dangerous problems down the road. Many mechanics and auto parts stores will do a free reading of the check engine light code to help drivers know what sort of code they’re dealing with.

So then why do some people ignore getting this looked at?

“I don’t want to know what’s wrong. It’s probably something I can’t afford to worry about right now,” one anonymous person mentioned.

This seems to be a common sentiment among many drivers, that ignorance is bliss. While a gamble, there are many check engine light codes that might not need immediate attention or, in some instances, can self-correct the next time the car’s computer runs a systems check.

“I drive a Toyota older than me, the check engine light has been on for over two years and I haven’t noticed any real problems,” another person said.

You Should Take Your Car to a Mechanic as Soon as Possible

Despite the fact that most people ignore the check engine light, it’s important to note how crucial it is to, at least, get a reading to make sure it’s not an immediate threat to your safety or the integrity of the car itself.

Even if the problem appears small based on the code, these warnings sometimes come as a precursor to a major and more expensive issue if not addressed. It’s best to find a trusted mechanic to ensure that a pro can offer an assessment and make recommendations no matter what issues arise with your vehicle.

Study methodology

  • The survey collected responses from 1,239 U.S. residents who reported routinely driving a car.
  • The survey collected responses between January 28th, 2021 and February 3rd, 2021.
  • All data collected was done so without respondents having to report any personally identifying information.

About the Authors

The staff is dedicated to providing you with all the deep-dive details. Our writers, researchers, and editors came together from Charlotte, Seattle, San Juan, Fort Worth, Fort Lauderdale, San Diego, and Chicago to put this review together.